10 January 2016

Today, as I am reading the Washington Post, an article by Jonathan Capehart, entitled "An LGBT Rights Fight on the Horizon" has reminded me of our obligation as public colleges and universities universities charged to uphold a democratic mission.

I think it is important for ACPA members to hear what he is suggesting and think about potential impact on students we support, the campus climates we endeavor to create, and the challenges to be who and what we are mandated to do and be.

Capehart traces the recent history of challenges to  LGBT rights, "first, the illegal actions of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who said that her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a matter of acting under 'God's authority', the historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage be damned."

In November, 2015 we witnessed "the repudiation of an anti-discrimination law that protected LGBT people in Houston (HERO), thanks to a campaign built on lies about transgender people in public bathrooms, the statute that covered 15 'protected characteristics' was repealed with more than 60% of the vote."

In a few weeks, I go to Houston for a meeting with representatives of the Houston Mayor's office, the Houston Police Department, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau, our hotel providers, as well as the ACLU and local transgender rights activists.  We will discuss tangible ways in which we can defend our members against discrimination on their campuses, in their jobs and while they attend our 2018 Convention currently slated for Houston.

This deep due diligence is rapidly becoming part of ACPA's vetting process for our meetings and events around the United States and outside the country as well.

We can no longer ensure that our already rigorous vetting process for site selections is sufficient to defend against the ambivalence of voters on the future of our democratic nation and its cities.

When we chose Houston as a meeting site, one of the reasons was because HERO was in place. Now voters have stripped that protection away.

We have reentered a time that feels eerily like the days of my childhood in West Texas when black citizens had to map out safe routes to travel across county and state lines. Sadly, there are still places in America where it is not safe to traverse the deeply entrenched lines of demarcation for race, sexual orientation, gender identification, religious identity, class and more.

What is next?

"With this new year will come renewed attempts to use the law to discriminate against LGBT Americans, largely by deploying Davis's God's Authority' defense."

"The uproar last spring over attempts to pass an expansive law in Indiana that would allow businesses to use religious belief as a justification for treating LGBT people as second class citizens has in no way curtailed so-called religious freedom efforts in other parts of the country."

"Case in point: Florida. (It's) legislature is considering House Bill 401, the 'protection of the religious freedom bill.'  This nasty measure would go well beyond what was proposed in Indiana. Yes, as is common with such efforts, it would apply to and protect from litigation religious institutions, businesses and private adoption agencies. But it would also cover any healthcare facility, nursing home, ambulatory surgery center, assisted-living facility or healthcare provider."

These individuals and organizations "would not be required to administer, recommend or deliver a medical treatment or procedure that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the facility or healthcare provider. How could this be morally permissible?"

"Proponents can swaddle such legislation in principled language, but it is discrimination masquerading as religious conviction."

"This issue may flare up in other places as well. Religious refusal and anti-transgender laws have been or are being considered in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming."

"As troubling as this Florida bill is, this is just one way in which were seeing religion being invoked to resist equal rights across the country," according to Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Center for Liberty...Religious freedom protects our right to our beliefs, but not to discriminate.

The Post provides an interesting analysis of the political machinations operating behind these egregious anti-LGBT measures.

"With the exception of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas...the Republican presidential candidates so far haven't said much about LGBT issues. But the states listed above represent 10 of the 13 contests in the March 1 SuperTuesday vote and the 565 bound delegates at stake that day are the largest single day share on the primary calendar.

"So in the next few months the candidates have a huge incentive to do whatever it takes to earn the votes of evangelicals and social conservatives. In a presidential election cycle where  not being "politically correct" has been polling gold, don't be surprised when the silence on LGBT issues ends."

We know that a roll back on the protection of any citizen is a roll back on the protection of all.

This is a great time for American public colleges and universities to demonstrate their willingness to live out their democratic mission in ways that the rest of the nation may fail to do.

This is a great time for our institutions of higher learning to put in place protections and accommodations for trans identified students, faculty, staff and administrators in ways that exceed anything provided in the larger communities in which they operate.

This is a great time to consider everything we have denied to underrepresented citizens, and those who are not yet citizens, and boldly reverse those deficits.

This is a great time to model what it means to be a democracy, the crucible for human dignity and human rights.  If colleges and universities fail to engage students in what it really means when we say liberty and justice for all, who will?